Tanoa Bowl showcases Alaska athletes

JDHS QB Philip Fenumiai holds his Offensive Player of the Game trophy from the 2011 Tanoa Bowl in Auburn, WA. (Photo courtesy Dirk Knudsen. Click to enlarge)

Team Alaska left Team Oregon scoreless in the second annual Tanoa Bowl over the New Year’s weekend.

The football bowl game started in late 2010, designed to showcase high school players in Washington and Alaska and introduce them to college football coaches. This year the bowl game expanded to include teams from Oregon and Utah.

It was played on New Year’s Eve at Auburn Memorial Stadium, south of Seattle. Alaska beat Oregon 40-0, to a crowd of family, friends, and college football recruiters, mostly from division two and division three schools.

Team Alaska head coach Numi Ilalio says many college coaches don’t pay much attention to Alaska high school football teams.

Ilalio coaches at Service High School in Anchorage. The Alaska football season ends in early October, a month earlier than the Lower 48. It took dedication, and money, for some of the players selected to get to Anchorage for practice, but kids from Juneau, the MatSu and Anchorage managed to practice 18 days before the big game.

Thirty-seven players – sophomores, juniors, and seniors — from the Cook Inlet and Railbelt conferences were hand-picked, based on what Ilalio calls the Three-A’s, utilized by college athletic recruiters.

“The first A is Academic,” Ilalio says. “They have to have the academics, otherwise it would be useless for them to be on this team and not be able to qualify to go to college.”

The second A is Attitude. Ilalio says recruiters are looking for a good attitude and dedication to the sport, because the university will be making an investment in each player they select.

“The one thing that college coaches told me a long time ago is you have to put yourself in their shoes,” he says, “and ask yourself ‘am I going to put my life, my paycheck on the line for an 18-year-old kid, when I don’t know if he has the character, the ability and the academics to play?’ ”

The third A is Ability to play at the college level.

“I looked at the best players in the state of Alaska who made the All-Conference, made the All-State list and then selected from there,” Ilalio says.

Three were Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears – Quarterback Phillip Fenumiai, linebacker Lah Fafita and Enele “Bubbles” Velopoto. Three players came from Wasilla and the rest from eight Anchorage-area high schools.

Each player goes to the Tanoa Bowl with a file on their high school football career, academic transcripts and a DVD of their play.

Fenumiai was one of three quarterbacks on the team, along with Conor Feckley from West High School and Zach Lujan from South.

“Right from the get-go we set the tempo with a big hit from one of our safeties on kick off,” Fenumiai says. “From there we just put the pedal to the metal and just let everything loose and we just had control over the whole game.”

Then they got to watch Team Utah beat Team Washington, 45-24.

“Utah had a very good team. We scrimmaged them and they had a lot of good athletes on their team,” Fenumiai says.

After the games, Tanoa Bowl staff – separate from the teams’ coaching staff – selected MVPs for each team.

Service HS's Matthew Ilalio accepts his MVP trophy for the 2011 Tanoa Bowl in Auburn, WA. (Photo courtesy Dirk Knudsen. Click to enlarge)

Fenumiai was the offensive player of the game and Matthew Ilialio of Service was most valuable player for Team Alaska.

The Tanao Bowl has Polynesian roots, but being Polynesian is not a criteria for selection to the teams. Ilalio, who is Samoan, says it symbolizes the importance of family, culture and team. The players do not have to be Polynesian

“To come together as a football family and help get these kids noticed and recruited by colleges,” he says.

In addition to Ilalio, the coaching roster was sort of a who’s who of coaches for large Alaska high schools, including Chugiak head coach Duncan Shackelford, West High School head coach Tim Davis as well as South quarterback coach Gabby Lujan and Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears Defensive Coordinator Al Fenumiai – 10 coaches in all.

The football recruiting program is part of the Alaska Athletic Alliance. For more information, go to alaskaalthelticalliance.org.

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